Sunday, March 18, 2012

Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It) (Beyonce)

March 13-20
 The end of the week found me at Mainland Regional HS with my fellow educators of NJCTY to have a forum on 21st Century Learning.  We talked about the necessary skills that would have to be learned and taught, known as the 4C's. Collaboration, Communication, Creative Problem Solving, and Critical Thinking.  Classroom Close-up came to film us, so stay tuned to see NJCTY in action on tv!  Our goal is to promote positive communication for quality education throughout the state by having these forums in a different county, covering a different subject, every month.  We invite everyone, teachers, administration, local policy makers, parents, students and anyone else who is willing to engage in positive dialogue.  We often bring in an expert to do a talk and then we put the audience to work, having them work as a group to visualize a problem and solution, draw it out, and then talk about it.  We also have them formulate questions, concerns, or suggestions about the topic which we then bring back to and give to the appropriate task force, office, or policy maker.  We have had an incredible amount of positive feedback and often times people that come to us looking concerned or angry often leave us with a deeper understanding of the issue.  The most revolutionary thing we do is get a cross section of people working in groups a set of tables and let them talk.  People are most often surprised at the student's point of view.

        After leaving the shore, the next day I was on a train up to NYC to visit my fellow STOY from NY Katie Ferguson at the Celebration for Teaching and Learning.  I didn't know much about it before I went, but what an amazing experience!  I encourage anyone who can go next year to do so.  It was great to hang out with Katie, who was being honored as NYSTOY.  If you see any footage of the celebration where they talk about her experience with StoryCorps where her former student interviews her, and then the camera pans to see her tear up in the audience, yep, that is me sitting next to her. I saw some powerhouse speakers, learned some new tips for when I return to my classroom, and I will be back next year.   She was a rock star and everyone wanted to meet her, and my friend was kind enough to introduce me.  It was nice to be able to connect and compare what we had been doing since we last saw each other in Dallas.

After arriving home very late, (or was it very early?) I was off to Trenton the next morning to the NJEA Delegate Assembly to receive my TOY ring and give a little speech.  What girl doesn't love a little bling?  I have been getting pretty good at this speech thing, evidently my enthusiasm is very motivational.  So I was going to tell a story  from a few weeks before where I had a teachable moment and used this great metaphor of how teaching was like conducting an orchestra.  I was tired and so I wrote the story down, but looking at it threw me off.  Truth be told, I was a little nervous too, but I managed to recover and graciously accept my new ring.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Working for the Weekend (Loverboy)

March 5-12
    My goal while I am here working at the Dept. of Education in Trenton is to do something that has a positive and lasting impact for teachers and students.  I know I have an impact on my students every year, but how could I effect change on a larger level?  To that end, I have been spending much of my time here putting together a proposal for a NJ Teaching Ambassador Fellowship.  The idea happened because of the many conversations I had with teachers and policy makers, and the advent of the new RESPECT program in DC.  When I got to Trenton, I had meetings with many of the people in charge and heard the same things over and over again.  They want teacher input, transparency, and they want to improve the current education system.  The DOE is also finding that  delivering information to the teacher in a classroom has been difficult.  The reason is that first of all, the information is not trickling down through the ranks, the second is that the DOE doesn't speak "teacher".    Teachers, I was finding, were terrified of the impending changes to education, in large part because the information they had was only part of the story, if they had any information at all.  I also spoke to many award winning teachers within the state who lamented that there was not something else they could do along the career ladder that could provide an outlet for their leadership abilities without having to become administrators. 
      I did my research, and thought that the time was right for this program.  It is based on the federal model and I have been working closely with both the designer of the original program and the current director in DC. The purpose would be, in the beginning, to take 3-5 teachers and have them do a work exchange program where they would be based in Trenton for a year working with the policy makers and making sure that the teacher voice was heard.  Their job would then be to disseminate the information around the state and gather feedback from educators at forums and round-table discussions.  A win-win situation for both sides.  Here is the perfect opportunity to model collaboration, elevate the teaching profession, provide some leadership opportunities for educators, contribute to the idea of shared responsibility, and perhaps provide a window through which some understanding could take place. 

     Having the idea was one thing, researching and putting together the proposal, application, budget and all the other little things that are needed to get a program off the ground is entirely something else.  But here it is. It's been pitched, so now it is just a matter of seeing if it is received. 

In the meantime, I received a phone call from Senator Menendez telling me that I was being given the Evangelina Menendez Trailblazer Award, named after the Senator's late mother, in recognition of my work in education.  I was honored and humbled to receive such an award, especially for doing something that I love.  The ceremony was in Jersey City and was quite an evening to remember. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Proud Mary (Tina Turner)

Feb 26- March 3

Rolling on the river...

Everywhere I go I have been asked what it is like to be NJ State Teacher of the Year. It is difficult to put the experience into words with all of the amazing opportunities  I have had and the incredible people I have met.  It is exhausting, but in a good way, so I try to explain it like this.  In school there is chaos but it is all connected and going in one direction because at the end of the day it is all about your students.  You embrace the chaos and learn to work with it because you certainly can't control it.  As NJTOY, there is chaos and although everything relates to education, I now have a view from 30,000 ft in which the chaos spreads out in all directions and nothing is connected. 

My week began in North Carolina visiting my Dad for his birthday.  Upon my return Tuesday it was straight up the Turnpike to begin designing model curriculum for World History.  As we began to unpack the Common Core Standards and align them with our current state standards, I began to realize that designing Student Learning Objectives takes great thought and a lot of discussion! 

Wednesday found me at prestigious Princeton University to discuss what can be done to form connections between K-12 and higher education in regard to teacher education.  We have some amazing educators in the state, many award winning, and it seems a crime to not utilize their talents in recruiting, training and mentoring new and prospective teachers.  After a very productive meeting, the idea for the New Jersey Distinguished Educator Network (NJDEN) was born.  More on this later.....

Thursday I began the new month with a visit to my former school district and home town of  Willingboro to hear an inspirational talk by NEA Vice President Lily Eskelson.  Her talk was like witnessing good teaching, it was heartfelt, relatable, and infused with humor and inspiration.  She too had been a State Teacher of the Year for New Mexico and so we got to compare experiences, do a little bonding and I got some good tips for future speeches.  Thanks Lily!
With Lily Eskelson at BCEA Headquarters.

The day after Lily's visit, I headed up to Rutgers University- Newark to visit the Law School and participate in a program on behalf of the NJ State Bar Foundation.  I was a guest teacher as part of the Street Law Program which was for urban students who were thinking about a career in law.  I was very excited to be there because I had been out of the classroom for a little over a month and I was itching to get my hands on a class.  After an amazing lunch of empanadas, red beans and rice and plantains (YUM!) I got to teach a class on Constitutions and Constitutionalism.  Don't yawn! I could tell that the kids thought they were going to be bored to tears when they got into my class, but honestly they didn't stand a chance.  I taught the crap out of that lesson and every kid in the room was engaged and participating.  Even though they were from different neighborhoods and very wary of each other, they managed to work together.  I only wish I could have had more time with them.  It was a great experience and if they call, I would gladly go back and do it again. 

A great class of students!

Flanked by two law students, here I am
with the amazing director Alycia Guichard, who ran a phenomenal day for the students.

  Many I spoke to were inspired and maybe, just maybe, this one day of mentorship made all the difference in someones life. 

Saturday found me presenting a workshop on Technology to the ladies of Delta Kappa Gamma, a society of professional women educators. Although I knew many of the ladies, few had ever seen me in action. I put together my first Prezi and had some minor technical difficulties, but despite it being a Saturday morning, after several cups of coffee I was my usual energetic self and the workshop was a great success.

The presenters with Alpha Zeta State President Roxanne Adinolfi (center)
With DKG NJ President Roxanne Adinolfi
Just another week as NJ TOY!